Get­ting back into the groove

MADONNA Rebel Heart ★★★★

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - LAU­REN MUR­PHY

Poly­dor If you’re the su­per­sti­tious sort, you might blame the mishaps sur­round­ing Madonna’s 13th al­bum – early leaks of songs that she con­tentiously likened to “artis­tic rape”, the sub­se­quent sanc­tioned re­lease of six tracks be­fore Christ­mas, con­tro­versy about fan art­work – on plain bad luck. If you’re the cyn­i­cal sort, you’d as­cribe the ker­fuf­fle to ge­nius mar­ket­ing. In any case, the in­dis­putable pop icon is back with a ten­ta­tive bang af­ter 2012’s dodgy MDNA – an al­bum with plenty of big names at­tached, but few mem­o­rable pop hits.

Madonna is never one to shun progress, and sev­eral songs on

Rebel Heart see her use the “club banger” strat­egy first de­ployed on 2005’s Con­fes­sions on a Dance­floor, with help from pro­duc­ers in­clud­ing Avi­ici, Diplo and Kanye West. Living for Love and Il­lu­mi­nati both zig-zag un­tidily around Auto-Tune and heavy-handed elec­tropop, while Un­apolo­getic Bitch’s scat­tered reg­gae stomp is sup­ple­mented by syn­the­sis­ers. Nor is she one to skirt ego­tism, as the Nicki Mi­naj-sup­ple­mented Bitch, I’m Madonna at­tests to; the tit­il­lat­ing Hold Tight even goes as far as to ref­er­ence her past life, with lines from Vogue.

There are plenty of old-school pop melodies to tip the bal­ance. Joan of Arc and the zippy Hold Tight are stand­outs, while her damn­ing in­dict­ment of a soured re­la­tion­ship, as heard on the com­par­a­tively aus­tere Heart­break City, off­sets the plen­ti­ful lyri­cal triv­i­al­i­ties.

There are sev­eral mis­steps: Mike Tyson’s spo­ken word turn on Iconic is to­kenis­tic, while her check­list of “sins” on Devil Pray (“We can sniff glue, and we can do E, and we can drop acid”) seems provoca­tive for the sake of it. Over­all, though . . . is it safe to say it? All right, then: it’s good to have her back.

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